Jerry "The King" Lawler made his highly anticipated return to Monday Night Raw last night (Nov. 12, 2012) at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. It was an incredibly emotional moment, punctuated by a teary-eyed Lawler thanking the fans for being so great to him while he was in recovery after his massive heart attack two months ago in Montreal.
"I have no idea what I should say right now," Lawler said. "This is so overwhelming. This, I can't tell you how much this means, thank you. I'm certainly, along with J.R., thinking that there was a time that I wouldn't be able to step back in a WWE ring again. So for this night to actually happen is just beyond words for me.
"I'm not trying to get corny or cheesy but every holiday season there's a classic movie that comes out and you all probably have seen it called It's a Wonderful Life. It's about a guy that didn't know how much his life meant to everybody that he knew and all his family and friends. And it took a near death experience for him to realize that and you know, I in the past few weeks have lived that movie. I had no idea how many of you out there, how many friends and fans that I had that reached out with your love and prayers and sent it my way. And I just want to say from the bottom of my heart I appreciate it and I love each and every one of you. Thank you all so much and it's great to be back."
It was a very touching moment, a true feel good story that pro wrestling fans could revel in instead of be embarrassed by. It felt good and right.
There wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Which made it the perfect time for WWE Champion CM Punk's music to hit so he and his manager, Paul Heyman, could come right on down to the ring with a smarky strut to mock "The King."
And did he ever.
"Jerry, I'm glad you left the ring when you did because if you didn't, I would have beat you to death ... again."
Talk about making an impact with words. The air sucked out of the entire arena, fans shocked that Punk would say such a thing playing on a real life situation that very nearly claimed the man's life he was talking to.
It got worse.
Punk would go on to say Lawler was the one who acted irresponsibly by climbing back inside the ring at the age of 62 and he should be ashamed for taking attention away from Punk as WWE champion for 358 days with his "little heart attack stunt."
Seem callous and cold? Of course. But again, it got worse.
Punk continued his verbal assault on Lawler but in the process of doing so, Heyman started coughing and looking red. He acted as though he couldn't breathe and eventually collapsed to the mat. Punk immediately rushed to his aid, checking him for a pulse, throwing up the "X" sign to signal for legitimate help from the back, and screaming for help while administering CPR.
It was, of course, simply Heyman faking a heart attack while everyone looked on uncomfortably.
Finally, Heyman sat up, pointed at Lawler and laughed. Punk, chuckling, said "my god, Paul, you almost gave me a heart attack."
That line you see there, that line of decency, taste, right and wrong, good and bad, and all that? Punk and Heyman were so far across it, they couldn't even see the line anymore.
And it was brilliant.
The reality here is that this isn't reality at all. You can use reality in this fantasy world but that doesn't make the fantasy world any more real. It only enhances the feeling and that's why it was such a brilliant move on WWE's part to make sure everyone was on board -- and Lawler undoubtedly was considering some of the angles he went with throughout his career in Memphis -- and execute what I would argue was a strong contender for "Segment of the Year."
Punk and Paul are heels who used a legitimately emotional situation to get more heat on themselves than Punk has ever gotten before. That's the point of his being a bad guy, you see, and Lawler played along because, again, this isn't real life.
Punk, the man, likely gave Lawler, the man, a big old hug and a smile when they met at the arena before the show. Punk, the character, gave Lawler, the character, a verbal lashing that instantly made him the most hated man in WWE. Was it in bad taste? It probably was but it's defensible on a number of levels.
What wasn't defensible, however, was WWE's decision to film and air footage of Lawler getting treatment backstage immediately following his heart attack. At first, I thought it was simply a recreation but quickly realized it was legitimate footage shot while the medical team was racing against time trying to save a man's life.
And there was the WWE camera man, filming the whole way.
That's disgusting. It's despicable. This wasn't the fantasy world, this was the real world and a man was dying, or worse, at that point he was dead. They were trying to bring him back while WWE felt it right to film the process because it could profit on the footage later.
What if Lawler had lost that battle? What if those heroic medics hadn't been able to perform what amounts to a minor miracle? That footage undoubtedly never comes to light but it would have meant WWE was filming the death of a man knowing full well what the outcome could be. Once he was backstage getting treated, those cameras should have disappeared.
Not only did they stay, they continued rolling and now WWE will utilize that footage to cash in as best they can.
That's difficult to digest.
Punk's actions were a part of the show, a fantasy play on a real world situation. I came away feeling a little angry at Punk and applauding WWE for its ability to evoke that emotion from a tired old mark like myself.
But they took it too far with the video. Way too far.